Let it never be said that Leon is a brave man. If it’s a choice between running away to save his own skin, and defending someone else, Leon chooses the former every time. He feels bad about it later, of course, but, let’s be real: No one’s really expecting Leon to save them to begin with. And anyone who does is clearly out of options…and hope. It stings a little, but Leon lives with it - get that, he lives with it? As in, he lives to regret it. Instead of being dead.
Anyhow, no one expects much from the small Asian man - least of all Leon himself.
Which is why he can’t wrap his head around the theatrics these guys are doing.
And that’s saying something, because Leon’s been around the block a couple of times, and been threatened by quite a lot of people - he’s still not quite over Candy’s betrayal yet.
But really, these guys are pushing it.
I mean, chains? Leon lifts the heavy, gothic-type shackles; tarnished silver, from what little he can tell, and tight around his wrists. His skin is a bit pink wherever the expensive metal’s touched him. Maybe he’s allergic? Leon’s not sure, he’s never been rich enough to have silver anything.
He glances up at the two muscled men. Any buffer, and their dark suits wouldn’t fit their broad shoulders.
Puck’s scrunched up in a corner of the ceiling, smirking down at him. Leon glares at the imp. Would it kill the old fae to leave him alone for one month?
When the imp showed up a few years ago, Leon had accepted Puck’s offer of luck - okay, he might’ve freaked out just a little bit, but, hey, you can’t blame a guy. It’s Puck. So, yeah, Leon freaked a bit…it wasn’t a lot! But…Puck didn’t like it, so he threatened to rip out Leon’s tongue. That certainly changed things. Leon shut up real fast then.
A lifetime of dealing with bullies will do that to you.
And Leon’s very adept at getting the bullies to leave him alone – after they beat him up, of course, but he’s good at acting more broken than what he is. Puck’s no different.
Plus, now Leon gets to enjoy the added bonus of more money and a fair bit of protection from the imp - evidently, only Puck is allowed to kill Leon - but…these late-night adventures are starting to wear thin on Leon.
Leon raises his wrists a bit higher, a nervous chuckle escaping him. “Chains? I mean, sure, yeah, I go in for the occasional kinky night, but, come on, man, this is a little overkill, don’tcha think?”
One of the guys sneers at him.
Leon swallows, hard.
He’s never quite had that look directed at him.
Sure, people always seem to be angry or disappointed, and the few that aren’t get annoyed by him. Leon’s used to those looks. But this? This pure greed? Nope, he’s not liking it one bit. Where’s John when you need him?
Leon licks his dry lips. “I’m sure we can work out an agreement?”
Sneer laughs - the kind of laugh you’d expect from sandpaper and gargled glass. Leon shivers at it. Sneer grins at his friend. “As if, Siabhra.”
Leon blinks. “What?”
Sneer glances up at Puck. “You don’t mind, do you?”
Puck stares down at them all, tugging on one pointed ear. “Not so much.”
“Hey!” Leon yelps. What’s Puck up to? Usually the imp takes great pains to make sure Leon isn’t ever in any really big trouble. But this…this seems like it might be bad. Like bad-bad.
“It’s fun, watching you,” Puck continues, ignoring Leon.
Sneer looks a little miffed at that insult, but, wisely, lets it go. “Well, so long as you’re sure.”
“Sure as Nor,” Puck says.
Sneer nods. “Chuck, get the spell ready.”
What spell? And, better yet, is it going to hurt?
Leon hates being out of the loop like this.
John always shows up when people start to dabble in supernatural things. Especially ones that might attract attention. Surely, this counts. It has to count, right?
“Look at its face!” Chuck crows as he sprinkles some kind of dust in a wide circle around Leon.
Leon just hopes it’s not human ashes, or something equally as gross.
Sneer leans in close, too close for Leon. He instinctively pulls back. Sneer’s grin widens to show more teeth. “Don’t worry, we’re not going to kill you, little fae. We’re going to use you.”
Oh…Leon slumps in relief. They’re not going to…
“Fae?” Leon splutters. “I think you’ve made some mistake here, guys. I’m not a fae! I’m just a human. Look, I get it that Puck confuses at lot of people, but, really, I’m nothing special. Just plain and boring. And, I’d hate to waste your time, so…”
“It doesn’t even know!” howls Chuck, pausing in his dusting. “This is rich! Is that why you follow it around?”
This last is directed to Puck.
The imp flicks out his forked tongue and shrugs.
Sneer snaps his fingers. “Chuck, focus.”
Chuck finishes the circle and Sneer opens an ancient looking book. He starts to murmur something under his breath.
At first, nothing really happens, other than the dust lighting up like some weird glow-in-the-dark nightlight. Then Leon feels his skin begin to itch. He scratches at a spot on his left arm. When that doesn't help, he scratches harder, but the itching just grows. It's burning now, only not like fire, more like... acid.
Just what kind of spell is this!
Leon can’t focus on anything but the feeling of his skin burning. It’s like his skin is trying to peel itself off him. No, wait, it is crawling off him! It’s flaking off. This isn’t a simile anymore! His skin is coming off! They’re trying to skin him alive!
Doesn’t this count as intent to kill? Or…or gross misuse of magic? Where’s John? Why isn’t he here? Why’s he not making this better?
“Stop!” Leon screams. “Stop! Stop! Please, I’ll tell you anything! Stop!”
But, of course, they don’t.
Leon watches in horror as his pale skin crumbles off and pitch-black skin is revealed underneath. The pain stops, but the horror doesn’t. What’s happening! Why’s his skin black? His eyes water as his fingers grow longer into sharp, tipped claws.
Then the itching's back, in the one place he can't reach: his shoulder blades. He rolls his shoulders, pushes back as far as the chains will let him, trying to scratch that itch, but he can't. And then... then there's something writhing under the skin, pressing out, digging through - the skin is tearing and Leon is screaming - and he really doesn’t want to know what just came out of his body, because he's sure it's some kind of monster that's going to eat him - and it's still attached to him, like it's part of him, that new weight pulling at his skin.
What’s going on?
What’re they doing to him?
After minutes of - not torture, but Leon wishes he could call it that, because he’s going to have nightmares about this, he just knows it - the dust stops glowing and Sneer ends his chanting. He closes his book and tilts his head to the side. “Not bad.”
“Think it’ll get a lot?”
Sneer stalks closer and reaches out behind Leon. Leon tries to shrink away, but the chains won’t let him. Sneer grabs something - and what did he just grab, but Leon felt that! - pulls and Leon gets yanked sideways. A jolt of pain flashes through Leon’s shoulder as a bat-like wing is jerked into view.
“Hey!” Chuck snaps. “Don’t rip ‘em!”
“They’re not that fragile,” Sneer smirks. He twists the wing, grinding the bones, and Leon winces. “Nah, these things are solid as steel.”
“Think they’ll add to the price?” Chuck asks, almost bouncing on his toes.
Sneer strokes the wing, grinning down at Leon. “If not, we’ll just play with it.”
Leon hiccups a sob.
Chuck snorts. “Kind of pathetic, for a fae.”
Someone knocks on the locked door.
Both men look towards it.
“I thought you said no one knew we were doin’ this,” Chuck hisses.
“They don’t.” Sneer draws a gun from the back of his pants. “Check it out.”
“Me? You check it out!”
“I’ve got the gun. Go, I’ll cover you.”
Chuck glares, but stalks over to the door.
Leon dribbles spit onto the stone floor beneath him. So, a new party has arrived. Great. They can get in on the fun. Maybe they’ll be the Foundation. Does it even matter at this point? Leon’s not going anywhere.
The door slams open, the edge hitting Chuck in the shoulder and sending the man crashing into the wall, where he smacks his head against the bricks and falls unconscious.
Leon hopes a passing nymph grabs his mind and plays with it for a long, long time.
The sound of flesh hitting flesh bring Leon back from his vengeful wishes. Some guy in a suit and long coat is beating up Sneer. Wait…suit...John! John’s here! John will…Leon stops breathing. John will lock him away. That’s what happens to all supernatural beings who bring too much attention to themselves. He’s seen John and Harold do it before, with that mermaid in the sewers.
It’s a nice, comfy pool, but it’s still a prison cell.
Leon’s not going into something similar! He’s not! He hasn’t done anything wrong! He didn’t mean to shed his…his skin.
Leon twists his right wrist, trying tug the manacle off with his left, but his new claws are getting in the way. They're razor-sharp, too, cutting into his flesh each time he slips.
But he can’t let that slow him down.
He has to get out of here, before John finishes.
He has to hide.
He has to -
“Leon?” a calm, graveled voice says.
Leon doesn’t stop his attempts at escape.
He has to get out!
John won’t take that long.
And then Leon will be taken away and never seen again.
“Leon, stop. It’s John.”
He’s knows it’s John. That’s why he has to get away. Doesn’t this voice get that? He can’t be locked in some cage. He doesn’t do well with being indoors - which, in retrospect, makes a lot of sense now. No fae ever does well inside human contraptions.
Leon freezes at the sharp command. Looks up into John’s worried eyes.
“Leon, they’re not going to bother you again,” John says, his tone even again. He hunches down on one knee. “I’ll get you out of those. No need to rip yourself to shreds.”
Leon stares down at the mangled, black flesh of his right wrist. “I’m sorry.”
“Now there’s a first,” John says with a chuckle.
He reaches out for Leon's wrist -
“Leon...” John says warningly, and Leon realizes that he just flinched. Away from John. The man who's saved his life on at least four occasions by now!
“You d-don’t need to lock me up. I can k-keep a low profile. I-I can!” Leon pleads as best he can. His life is on the line, after all. He’s very good at begging for it. “I mean, I know I get into trouble every month, or week, but th-that’s Puck! I swear I can do better. I can.”
“Leon,” John says.
“You don’t need to make me go away. I can…I can–”
“I’m not locking you up.”
“Leon…” John sits back on his heels. “You know about the Foundation, right? They’re the ones who lock people up. We don’t do that -”
“You do! I saw it!
John stares at Leon, something hard flashing through his eyes. “We don’t imprison people. Did you think we didn’t know about your second state? It wasn’t hard. We asked Puck, but I’d guessed it by the second time we met. You like mischief too much.”
“Guessed…what’re you talking about?”
“The fact that you’re a Changeling. Didn’t figure it would be a big deal, since you were good at hiding it, so I never mentioned it.” John’s gaze softens the teeniest of bits. “You didn’t know, did you?”
Leon shakes his head. “I swear, I didn’t. I wouldn’t have been so public, if I had. I swear. I’m not stupid, John.”
John smirks. “That’s debatable.”
Leon’s eyes dart up to Puck - who waves down at him. “I wouldn’t –”
“I’m pretty sure you would, but just better.” John reaches out again. “Mind me getting these off you?”
After a moment, Leon swallows and holds his wrists out to him.
John does something fast and cool, and Leon’s free of the manacles. He rubs at his chafed skin, sucking in a pained hiss when he rubs right over the open wound; he'd forgotten about the state of his right wrist.
John frowns down at the injury.
“That’s going to need a lot of work. More than I’m capable of.” The tall man pushes up off his knee. He searches through the two guys' pockets, stuffs a few gold charms into his bag. Adds the book. Smudges the dust circle in a few places, a quick flash of disgust across his face; Leon decides he's happier not knowing what it's made of.
John glances up at Puck. “If it all right with you, we’d like to take Leon to a nurse.”
It’d be insulting, John asking Puck instead of Leon - if Leon didn’t know how possessive Puck can be over his toys. Again, thank you, King Arthur (that man really did get on Puck’s bad side way too many times).
Puck zips down in front of John’s face. Nose-to-nose. John raises an eyebrow. Puck’s mouth widens into a toothy grin. Long, sharp teeth snap inches from John’s nose. Leon jerks at the abrupt movement. John doesn’t even blink (‘cause he’s cool like that).
Puck laughs. “Funny, mortal. Suppose I say you’re mine?”
“I don’t think you’d enjoy me quite as much as you’d think.”
“No?” Puck rests a deceivingly kind hand on John’s shoulder. The imp’s fingernails grow and cut into John’s coat.
John still doesn’t move.
Leon forgets how to breath.
Puck lets goes. “No, you’d be boring and obedient, wouldn’t you.”
The imp whizzes up to the small window at the ceiling. He winks at them both. “Can you find them all?”
And then he’s gone in a glimmer of sparkles and tiny bell chimes.
John looks like he wants to roll his eyes. He gestures for Leon to follow him out, neatly stepping over a body on his way out, and touches his ear. “Finch, I got Leon…a bit shaken, but alive. I’m taking him to Lysa.”
Leon scrambles to his feet.
He pauses a second at Sneer’s body. It’s oozing dark blood onto the floor.
“You coming?” John calls back from the small hallway.
Leon dashes after him, which, of course, is when his newly acquired wings decide to trip him. He steps on the left wing and is jerked face first into the wall, nose smashing up against the bricks.
John catches him as he starts to face-plant into the door. “Let’s get those under control.”
Leon stiffens, shooting nervous glances at both his new wings. “Uh…yeah. Yeah, we should probably do that. Do you know how to do that? Of course, you do. It’s just, they’re huge, and I’m not sure they’re listening to me right now. Can wings listen to you? I mean, your arms and legs do, so these should, but they’re not. And -”
“Leon!” John snaps. His face relaxes a second later. “It’s fine. We just need to push them together, and then I’ll put my coat over them.”
“A-and that’ll work?”
“Has before,” John says with a shrug.
With gentle fingers, John manipulates the wings together. It’s a combination of massaging and pulling, and the wings don’t want to cooperate at first. They spasm and cramp, making Leon wince in pain.
“Relax,” John tells him. “They’re responding to your emotions.”
“Well, forgive me for being tense.” Leon scowls and folds his arms. The left wing flaps out and hits John in the shoulder. Leon cringes. “Sorry.”
“Relax,” John says.
Leon tries. It’s just…weird, having John touch these new, extra limbs. Like having someone grab your arm after it’s fallen asleep. You know it’s your arm they’re holding, but it doesn’t feel like it.
After that, John quickly has Leon’s wings folded. He then shrugs off the long coat he’s wearing and drapes over and around Leon’s wings and shoulders. Leon grabs both sides and huddles deeper inside the warm clothing. John smacks a wide-brimmed hat on Leon’s head - covering, he’s sure, his fae-like face.
Leon sends him a half-hearted glare anyway.
John just smirks and pulls him outside. “I know a good doctor close by.”
“Is she hot?” Leon asks, before he can think better of it.
John sends him a look, while keeping a hand on his arm. “You never change, do you.”
“What? It’s a fair question.”
“Only if you’re going to date her.”
“Who says I’m not?”
“She’s a vampire.”
But then again…
“The dates would be pretty cool then, right?” Leon warms up to the idea. “Sexy dresses, dinner by candle light –”
“I wonder what dinner would be,” John snarks, giving Leon’s neck a pointed look.
“She’d be different!”
Leon glares. “Below the belt, dude.”
John sighs, pulling the passenger side door of his car open. “Just get in.”
Leon ducks under and tries to squeeze in, but his wings keep pushing up against the roof of the car. He steps back and eyes the small space. “I don’t think I’m fitting in there right now.”
John nudges him back and pulls the passenger seat as far forward as it will go. He then opens the backseat door. “Try the back seat.”
Leon’s able to get in now, but as soon as he goes to sit, the wings pull and twist painfully. He shuffles one way and then another, but it’s no good. Just more pinched nerves. He sucks in a breath and let’s go of the coat. Immediately, the wings flare out, bashing against the roof and seats. Leon cries out and tries to tug them down again.
No use. They’re fighting him.
John reappears and starts rubbing the edges of the wings. They stop trembling and ease down.
“How’d you do that?” Leon asks, staring as the black monstrosities are corralled into obedience.
John glances at him down at him. “You’re not the first fae I’ve dealt with before. Learned a trick or two after my stint in the army.”
“Lie on your side, and try to relax. They’ll flare out against if you get too excited.”
Leon nods as John closes the doors and gets into the driver’s seat.
The car starts with a jerk that almost makes Leon roll off the seat. John mumbles a hurried ‘sorry ‘bout that’. Leon braces himself with his knees against the back of the passenger seat, and they’re off.
Once they’ve been on the road a few minutes, John glances at him through the rearview mirror. “You okay? I’m not driving too fast, am I?”
Leon shakes his head. It always surprises him, the amount of actual concern and care John gives him every time he rescues Leon. It’s not something anyone’s ever really done before. Even when Leon annoys John - and he knows that’s a lot - John only grumbles or gives a pointed stare. It’s…nice, being around someone like that. And even now that Leon isn’t technically human anymore, John still looks out for him.
“I’m good…” Leon bites his lower lip. Ouch! He forgot he’s sharp teeth now. He sucks on the small puncture wound. “So long as you don’t brake superfast and I go through the windshield.”
John looks forward. “You’d survive. It’d hurt, but you’d live. Probably be healed in two days, if I were to guess.”
“Huh. Always thought it weird my bruises were gone by the next day.”
“You need to be more careful from now on.”
“Well, duh. I’m not an idiot.”
“Says the fae who wants to flirt with a vampire.”
Leon sniffs and looks out the window, ignoring how scrunched and tight his wings feel in this car. “You wouldn’t understand. It’s love.”
At the abrupt reminder of the prostitute’s betrayal, Leon opts for the more mature route, and pouts.
The light turns red and John slows the car to a stop. Leon braces himself against the seat in front of him.
“Do you want me to ask Lysa if she can restore your second skin?” John asks.
A lump of something balls up in Leon’s throat. He swallows, but it stays firmly there. He’s never thought of himself as anything other than human. Sure, yes, he gets into trouble more often than most, but…but now…he reaches up and runs a finger down the edge of his right wing. It trembles at his touch, and he shivers when he feels that tremble go through his back.
He’s not human; not now, not anymore. He never really was, but somehow this still doesn’t feel right, being fae.
“She can do it tonight,” John says while Leon struggles not to freak out. The light turns green, but there’s no one around so John stays put and turns fully to Leon. “It’d be quick.”
“And I’d look human again?”
Leon studies his clawed hands. “No one would mess with me like this.”
He attempts a grin.
John glares. “The Foundation isn’t going to be deterred by your little claws.”
“I know, I–”
“Do you want me to describe one of their cells for you? I can. That mermaid could too, if you want. It’s starts with controlled temperatures of minus–”
“Okay, okay, geez,” Leon glares through the tears that rush up – and ignores the fear churning in his gut. “You don’t have to go all dark Batman on me. I get it.”
“Do you?” John leans in. “This isn’t like robbing the Nigerian mob or tricking some casino head. The Foundation has fingers everywhere. If you aren’t careful, they’ll catch you.”
“All right, all right!” Leon folds his arms and scowls out the car window. He can’t se anything but the tops of the buildings from his position on the seats, but it’s the thought that counts. “I’ll get it reversed. Geez!”
John presses on the gas pedal and they turn right. “Just take this seriously, Leon.”
“I said I will. Sheesh, lecture a guy to death, why don’tcha?” Leon runs a claw gently up and down the inner webbing of his right wing. “You know what kind of fae I am? Besides Changeling, I mean.”
“Never seen a Changeling with those kind of wings before.” John turns the car left, up a back-alley hill. “If Lysa won’t tell me, we’ll go back to the Library. Harold should have a book to identify you.”
“No!” Leon finds himself pressed tighter against the car door, away from John. He’s not going into that pocket dimension ever again. Last time was more than enough. Gave him the heebie-jeebies. Plus, he’s still not 100% sure John will let him go, once they’ve got him locked inside. “You don’t need to do that.”
John raises an eyebrow. “Leon.”
“I’m fine not knowing. It’s probably all creepy and gross, anyway. I’ll just have Liza put some human skin on me, and voila! All better.”
“You’ve been to the Library before. Is it the charms?” The car slows to a stop at another light. “You didn’t say anything last time.”
“Like I would,” Leon mumbles under his breath. He grins and shakes his head. “Charms? Didn’t feel ‘em. I just want to get back home, is all. The Library’s so far out –”
“There’s a door close by.”
How convenient, and suspicious.
“I wouldn’t want to stay too late.”
John eyes him.
Leon crumbles under the gaze like tinfoil. “Look, man, I just…I know what happened to the mermaid, okay? I don’t…I’m not going to cause trouble. I swear!”
“Mermaid…” John stiffens. “Amatheia’s out at sea. We only kept her until we distracted the Foundation elsewhere. It was safer that way.”
“We don’t do that to the fae. You can ask Lysa, if you want. We rescued her two years ago.”
Leon’s still not sure he really believes John’s letting it go that quickly. “That’s great. Think she’ll go for a whiter skin? It’s all the rage right now.”
“You’re really spooked, aren’t you?”
“Spooked, me? Nah!” Leon touches his wing again. Just not stupid.
“Fine, we’ll skip the Library. I can always take a picture for Harold instead.”
Leon doesn’t realize he’s tense until he relaxes. It’s like butter melting, the way his shoulders drop and his back eases up. If John notices, he doesn’t say anything.
“I can always pose,” he ventures. “These wings would make one sick profile picture.”
John scoffs and shakes his head, smiling.
Leon bites his lip, more carefully this time. “You think the baby I replaced is still out there?”
“Maybe. No one’s ever really sure what they do with them.” John glances over. “Why? You feel the need to rescue it?”
“What? No!” Leon splutters, arms flailing. “That’s just stupid. Why would I go seeking out the fae? I’ve got a great life, right here. I don’t wanna go underground. There’s worms there! And goblins. No thank you!”
“And yet you’d let that human baby live there.”
“Well, yeah.” Leon slumps. “It’s not like I can do anything about it. Plus, they replaced me with it, didn’t they? You’ve seen how prickly Puck gets when people touch his stuff.”
John nods. He touches his ear again. “Finch? The Foundation onto us?”
But John’s posture doesn’t get tense. “Right. I’ll drop him off, and be right there.”
“Is it the Foundation?” Leon asks.
John nods. “Not you, though. Nathan’s–”
“The guy in the book?”
“He’s not in there anymore.”
“Cool! So, he’s human again?” There’s hope. Leon might be able to get this Lysa to do that for him.
“No, some sort of living doll.”
Okay, that’s creepy. “Soo…Nathan found something?”
“A kappa’s in trouble.”
“Oh. That sucks,” Leon says. Kappas are pretty passive, contrary to popular lore. O course, he didn’t know that the first time he saw one – Puck’s doing. Poor thing was about as freaked out as him. Puck thought it hilarious. Leon wonders what this one did to get the Foundation’s notice.
“I have to go,” John says, pulling up to a curb. “This is Lysa’s door. She’s expecting you.”
“You’re just leaving me here, with a vampire?!”
“I thought you were dating her.”
“That’s not funny. John, what if she…you know…” Leon mimes fangs going into his neck.
“Relax, Leon, she’s a professional. She won’t bite, unless you ask.” John gets out and opens the door by Leon’s head. “Now, let’s get you out.”
“Man, talk about pushy. See, this is why you don’t have any friends.” Leon helps as best he can to get out of the car. Tries to make sure he doesn’t become too excited. It works, for the most part. John only has to duck once.
The door is slammed shut behind him, and John jumps back into the car. It peels off. Leon eyes his ripped clothes and then the only clean door in the neighborhood. “Professional, huh.”